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Opinion

Missing from State of the Union: Obama's audacity of hope -- to help 'most vulnerable'

If President Obama is really committed to 'win the future,' he needs more than modest, bipartisan reforms. He needs bold plans to lift up America's most vulnerable, for the sake of the nation.

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Threats to most vulnerable are threats to nation

Of course, the president’s more modest goals reflect the fact that his party no longer controls both chambers of Congress. And none of these omissions detracts from the power of Obama’s vision or the soundness of his proposals.

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Each step of the president’s plan is essential to creating a more competitive America, one in which people of all backgrounds succeed. And there’s no question that the president is deeply committed to improving the opportunities of the most vulnerable, while protecting them from near-term harm every step of the way.

But the problems that threaten our most vulnerable are the problems that threaten the entire nation. Without addressing income inequality and the difficulties of a floundering middle and lower class, America cannot truly tackle the grand dilemmas of this “different world” that Obama outlined. Compromise alone will not address these issues. Only bold steps, at least as bold as before, will meet the challenges we face.

At a time when government programs to protect low income people and the environment are under threat and politicians have become allergic to terms like poverty and climate change, we must provide the most vulnerable with the foundation for a genuinely brighter future. Doing so is critical for the nation’s health and viability. This means more than playing a good defense on these issues. It requires a genuine offense – a plan that calls these problems what they are and lays out clear steps to solve them.

Some of that will require the president to continue offering bold ideas, and hopefully arguing for a better compromise. But much of that work will tap the other role of the president, that of a leader more than a governor.

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The truth is that Americans have been ambivalent about how to address these problems long before Republicans took power. Real change means asking the American people to begin to think anew about the challenges we face. It means altering the political climate by reaching voters directly.

Political exigencies have forced Obama to scale back his policy ambitions while he continues to look boldly to a more prosperous future. But unless he has another dose of systemic reform waiting in the wings, ready for political winds to begin to change, we as a nation will fall short of truly winning the future.

Sam Gill is a political consultant and was a Rhodes Scholar. Daniel Altschuler is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and was also a Rhodes Scholar.

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